Introduction | World

As the worldwide success of artists such as Shakira, Björk and Baha Men proves, world music is not antithetical to pop music, or to dance music, or to any other music form. For artists like India’s Ravi Shankar, the music of their world is classical music; for many Latin musicians, it is jazz; for others, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, it is the equivalent of gospel.

So, if world music does not stand in oppostition to pop, what exactly does it stand for? What criteria make Paul Simon’s Graceland world music, but exclude ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’? The crucial thing is the existence of cultural roots within the music, an understanding of where the components began life. By asking South African musicians to play in the manner to which they were accustomed, Simon acknowledged their culture. The Beatles may be everybody’s idea of a Liverpool band, but nothing in their music contains ‘essence of Liverpool’, so we can file them under pop.

However, the parameters of world music are as rigid as a line drawn in sand. If Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour recorded Beatles songs accompanied by musicians playing West African instruments, it would be world music; if he was accompanied by Western musicians and sang in a Liverpudlian accent, it would be a pop album. Fortunately, musicians don’t think too hard about parameters, lines or labels, nor is world music designed by focus groups.

So nobody makes world music, but many people listen to it. The term was coined by a group of concerned parties only because they wanted a neat marketing term, something that record shops could file records under. ‘They call my music “world music”,’ argues Jocelyne Beroard of Kassav’, ‘but what they mean is “Third World music”, it’s just a racist term.’

Beroard has a point but, in defence of the indefensible, world music is no longer the sole provenance of oppressed black people in Africa, the Caribbean and South America. World music thrives in Europe, where multicultural centres such as Paris, Barcelona and London are producing fast-mutating fusions of every global music imaginable. In cities that an Anglocentric perspective would view as the homes of world music – Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Senegal, Tokyo and so on – young musicians are creating styles that owe as much to their own roots as they do to the all-pervasive hip hop and rock heard on the radio. While major record companies are forever chasing ‘the new Michael Jackson’, musicians are wondering what would have happened if Jackson had been from Peru.

With rock, jazz and blues, there are consensus starting points, both in time and geography; this is not possible in world music unless you are prepared to include the first Neanderthal dance. This is not a flippant point, because rock, jazz and blues have all reached a point where, it can be argued, the full range of their possibilities has been explored. With...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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